Life is like a deck of Cards. It depends not so much on which cards you find in your hand but in how you might use them, or see them. There was a lovely song by Don Williams in the charts in the late 1950s, I was so much younger then, I Am older than that Now!
It used to make me cry because of its triumph of fairness over apparent blame.It had a big effect on my view of the world. I loved the way the young private had remained calm in the face of wrongful accusation, I loved his explanation and the singer’s revelation at the end. As a young boy, about 11 years old when I first heard it, I was well schooled in the Christian faith in both protestant and High Church, I loved the smell of incense wafting around near the altar and remember going around fascinated by pictures of the twelve stations of the cross, I wanted to be able to make images like that one day. My first sculpture ever was a plasticine pulpit made to show I too could make a pulpit like the boy last week who’d gotten so much praise. I took part with other 11 year olds to help create a mural about Jesus and I still keep the wooden cross with the brass Christ on which I saved my pocket money to buy.
Later, during my 6th form RE studies I heard about how the bible had not been written down during Christ’s lifetime and about some mysterious documents which had been found in pots near the Dead Sea. I gradually became aware that there were religions other than Christianity which also advocated goodwill toward humans and I spent many hours reading on different beliefs from different parts of the world. At college in the early 1970’s I was into Eastern ideas, they had become fashionable and in the mid-70’s I had read Hermann Hesse’s classic called Siddhartha about the young man who later became renowned as The Living Buddha. Last Wednesday night (27th November 2013) I made my way with a companion across London to watch a man called Sogyal Rinpoche talk. I have read his book, ‘The Tibetan Book Of Living And Dying’, a couple of times and had found it an incredible help in my own take on the thing called death. Much better than my earlier reading of Evans-Wentz’s book ‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead’. The latter being written about Tibetan ideas by a well-meaning American and the former by a Tibetan brought up in and by their tradition. I had watched Sogyal on UTube and loved his relaxed way of conducting his talks and his apparent use of humour to lighten the load of the ideas he puts out. I was curious to hear him ‘in person’ in the same way I am sometimes curious to be there at a live gig by a singer or poet or actor etc. I feel I did learn quite a lot and felt some good feelings but I shall come back to that after my report on the rest of a very busy day.
At 11 am I walked into the Chelsea College Artist’s Book Archive to be shown some books by Gustavo Montero its chief archivist. I showed him some books I had made recently and he showed me some of Tom Phillips works. I had come to see the full hardback 1st edition book Phillips had made about Dante’s Inferno. Very impressive it was too. He showed me some of the various prints inspired from that book in small folders and several different versions of Humument. A new book for my delight is by George Brecht which composed of many different sized printed words and images contained in a box all of which for copyright reasons I am not allowed to share images of.
Whilst perusing these different ways of presenting the word the notion arose in me to ‘publish’ some of my 1970s writing in its original handwritten form, maybe even with added colour and various smudges, shifts and overprints which would make it illegible and obfuscate reading, more artwork than literary so the words become just shape and pattern like, say, a Mark Tobey painting. Then to make a legible, simply typed version available on an E Book. That would move my books even further into being ‘artworks’, but as there is always a text, a context and ongoing description it would be churlish not to let people find it in ‘readable form, whether they want to access it or not.
On hearing about the two short films, one describing the ideas behind the pot and its contents the other of my mask event talk with its famous scene of an idiot dancing, made around the time of the Final MA show Gustavo saw some stills and reckoned it would be a good idea to post edited down versions on U tube which I shall do when I learn editing. Of all the unique one off books and my new book ‘G Batch’ that Gustavo saw it was the concertina card book of the clay tablets in my pothi (Tibetan style book) which he liked most. He is into the work of Ed Ruscha who makes cheap, or did, publications in editions of c.1000 and Gustavo liked the ‘solution to the problem’ I had invented to get the words on my clay potis out to a public in a cheap accessible form.
So, back to Sogyal. Finding the Rigpa centre for the first time was quite a challenge but we arrived in good time. Sadly as we would need to leave to catch a train connection we would have to leave before the event concluded so we had to move from our cushions at the front to a place at the back. But Once Sogyal began to talk there was an amazing atmosphere of calm and serenity which he seems to generate. His talk has long pauses where he may be trying to remember what he had to say but more likely he deliberately slows things down slower and slowly slower til you are waiting expectantly for the next comment. He makes lots of jokes. He definitely doesn’t want you to approach serious subjects like death without a smile on your face. He talked about accepting death rather than fearing it and how serious life is but that there is a need for humour. It seems to me that’s a compassionate humour, an accepting what is was, what will be will come, Become. Be Calm & Carry on as my friend Colin Lloyd Tucker sings.
His message seemed to be about the difference between what we thing is real and what is really real. He used the story of the Tibetan sky as an analogy. He talked of the conceptual mind, the one we live with most of the time and the Buddha nature which is deep inside us. He likened the conceptual mind to the clouds furling and behind them the blue sky which is permanent [outer] space, infinity. He said to contact that real nature of mind we need to be natural [just] Be yourself. Whilst meditating don’t interrupt your mind with instructions just relax and allow it to be.
I believe that I saw some things during the session which I shall try to explain. I am using my way with words my play with words here, not Sogyals:
Real-I-Say So On
It’s Real I say Shone
The Real I say shone (The Light)
So, I say I saw the light here, I sat there and saw sensed what I call ‘nuances’. These are my ‘beliefs’ or my considerations, not necessarily anything Sogyal said. I had been looking at ‘spirit’ over many many years. I did a comic which you can see in my book ‘Apul-One’ where author Paul Brunton was in the Great Pyramid overnight and he saw two lights coming toward him like sentient beings who spoke with him. And that was what I felt when Sogyal talked of past masters, buddhas, who gather round and watch [over] us. I call them the Wise Ones or the Watchers. There is a mantra, ‘Om Mani Padme Hung’, which if you say it , to yourself, or out loud or even in a group, will summon the community of buddhas to your side. I know some folk, many folk will be thinking that I am a poor misguided soul by now, but I really do think there is something in it. And my belief doesn’t hurt anybody, in fact I hope it can help somebody, me at least. Whether Brunton thought ‘buddhist’ when he ‘saw’ his watchers is debatable but I don’t perceive them as denominational! Spirit is much bigger than human divisions. So, let me finish before you go to sleep.
An Astounding Revelation arrives in the strangest of ways.
I can see an incredible ‘spirit’ being in this painting/collage of ‘the Dalai Lama standing in front of a Tibet mountain’ that I produced which ‘appeared’ without my intervention. I am not going to point it out but it is there for those with eyes to see.
Sogyal was talking about what Buddhists call your ‘Buddha-nature’, about if you look inside there you can find your ‘real’ nature, the constant self, the one which is not blown in the wind nor changes with it. I scanned around the room, I listened to the silence which Sogyal could bring to the gathering, and I let my mind go…allowed it to think of the possibility that they were gathered and ‘watching’, the wise ones that is. They are there. Forever.
I mentioned the watchers on the first page of my book Apul-One in 1975 when I wrote the last chapter which in fact became the first. I know I didn’t know then why I was mentioning them, I remember thinking , ‘you idiot, what’s all this about ‘watchers’ but part of me insisted on keeping it in. It was about a greater benevolence which watches waiting for me to tune in, to become aware and mind-full or rather, ‘void’- mind-less. And here I was on Wednesday 27 November 2013 sitting as cross legged as I can manage. In about an hour’s time my companion was about to get all esoteric on me when all of a suddy she said we are all air, water, earth & fire, but she hadn’t said that yet when Sogyal said something which resonated at a very deep level, a profound level which showed me his emphasis on humour is in fact so much deeper then we think. He started to joke about ‘guru’ the word which he said in Tibetan means ‘donkey’. Then he mimicked the sound of a donkey bray. He moved on saying about his words [to us], ‘A few droppings…and I want you to cherish them….relish them.’ He was still playing the donkey. He was giggling and waiting for us to ‘get’ what he was saying. I got it alright on more levels than he meant it, or did he? Obviously he was being self-deferential, kicking off any hero-worship, quite rightly and semi-ridiculing himself, and us for being there, so serious. And he is still playing the humour card. [Gurdjeff does it by saying we are all idiots and he, Gurdzhiev, is Arch-idiot, the King of all Idiots.] BUT, for me Sogyal had said something which in fact made profound sense to me and I think that is what enlightenment is all about. It Is very individual, it’s personal and this was so personal. He was talking of the donkey droppings being as pearls of wisdom.
The title of my 1975 book for which Apul-One is the sub-title is, ‘Standing On The Bannister Contemplating The Ways Of The World And The Farting Donkey.’
I bid you good night.
ps you can see my two books at my friend Kevin’s books site if you go in and scroll down about five books at
pps On Wednesday night Sogyal Rinpoche talked about the word ‘donkey’ being the Tibetan translation of the word ‘guru’. A donkey can sometimes (erroneously) be called an ‘ass’. An ass is sometimes (metaphorically) the substitute name used for ‘arse’. Sogyal said his words could be seen as ‘little droppings from a donkey’, which I compared to the original title of my first self-published book in which I reported I contemplated ‘the farting donkey’. So, IF you buy that book, what would that make you seem to be? Someone who likes listening to a man (albeit in his early 20s) who was talking through his donkey. And you know I keep saying I Am 63, old, now? Well age, like Einstein’s theory, is relative. Let me tell you a story which is sad but truly wonderful. My father was dying in a hospital and I was sitting around as he dozed and I could hear two ‘old’ female patients who didn’t know I was nearby, and didn’t know me anyway, they said, “ Have you heard they brought Odd-Job Jack in?” “Yes. They say he won’t recover.” “He used to mend my roof, he never charged very much.” “Yes. They say the good die young.” As I reflected on this chance conversation I thought how beautiful is that, they were talking about my dad. He was 73 year old.